An important constitutional drama played out this past week behind closed doors, one that may prove pivotal in safeguarding Israel’s democratic system.
According to various media reports, Attorney-General Yehuda Weinstein brazenly sought to undermine the government’s initiative to implement a firmer hand against Palestinians hurling stones and firebombs.
Fortunately for all of us, it appears that Weinstein was put in his place by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who reminded him that it is the government, and not the lawyers, who make policy.
Weinstein’s opposition to imposing tougher sentencing guidelines on those who hurl rocks and Molotov cocktails, as well as his hostility towards a relaxation of the rules on the use of live fire against them, is so remarkably detached from reality that it raises serious questions about his judgment.
Consider the following.
According to figures compiled by the IDF, there were 7,886 stone-throwing incidents in Judea and Samaria in 2013. In 2014, the number more than doubled, to 18,726. That averages out to 51 attacks per day, or more than two per hour, every hour, over the course of an entire year. And projections are that the number of such incidents recorded by the end of 2015 will prove even higher.
In Jerusalem, as veteran journalist Nadav Shragai reported last week, the number of stone-throwing attacks has ballooned to the point that the security forces have ceased counting them. But data indicates there have been over 5,000 such incidents in the capital just since the start of the year.
And then there are the Molotov cocktails and other homemade incendiary devices that Palestinians use to attack Israeli vehicles and even homes. From January through August of this year, nearly 300 such attacks have been recorded.
This is terrorism, pure and simple. No bullets or bombs may have been employed, but that doesn’t make it any less dangerous or destructive.
After all, when a Palestinian hoists a rock in the air, or a gas bomb, and attacks Jews, this is not a form of political protest or an expression of frustration.
It is an act of violence, one that involves a conscious desire to cause damage to property or bodily harm.
Indeed, the perils that it poses were on full display last week, when 64-year-old Alexander Levlovitz was murdered on the first night of Rosh Hashana by Palestinians throwing rocks in the southern Jerusalem neighborhood of Armon Hanatziv.
Police say that Levlovitz lost control of his vehicle when it was struck by stones and hit an electricity pole, resulting in his death.
He was the 14th Israeli to be killed by Palestinians in such an attack in the past three decades.
It was just two years ago, in March 2013, that twoyear old Adele Biton was mortally wounded when a truck that was stoned by Palestinians on Route 5 swerved out of control and hit the car she was in, crushing it underneath. The girl’s mother, and two sisters, ages six and four, were all moderately injured, but Adele received a blow to the head. She valiantly clung to life for two years before succumbing to her injuries.
Clearly, stones can be lethal, and those who intentionally employ them as a weapon need to be held to account.
The prime minister was absolutely right when he told the government’s weekly cabinet meeting, “We cannot accept the principle that in Jerusalem, our capital, or any part of the State Israel, the Galilee or the Negev, people organize mass terror and start throwing bottles at passing cars, or throw rocks, killing people.”
“This norm,” he added, “will not stay here. It will become the opposite: We will catch you in the act, we will punish you to the full extent of the law.”
According to a report on Channel 2, the premier wants to set a minimum five-year sentence for stone-throwers, and 10 years for those who toss firebombs, but the attorney-general, who also serves as the government’s legal adviser, opposed both moves.
This led Netanyahu to remind Weinstein of a basic principle, one that the veteran lawyer apparently forgot: “The government is sovereign and it decides, even if it is contrary to the position of the judiciary.”
And that is precisely how it should be.
Weinstein’s job is to advise the government, not to decide for it. He is not a policy-maker, and it is neither the right nor the mandate of legal advisers to meddle in such an unabashed manner.
By swatting down Weinstein, the prime minister reasserted the authority of the executive branch to craft policy. He struck an important blow against those who wish to see Israel become a country whose policy-making apparatus is held hostage by lawyers.
And in so doing, he not only made Israelis safer from Palestinian rock-throwing terrorists, but he bolstered our democracy too.